Patrick Monahan Interview
Patrick Monahan prepares to embrace the UK with his all-new, aptly titled show ‘Shooting From The Lip!’
Following his massive sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe Teesside’s favourite comedian returns from his icy cold spell performing in Norway to continue his latest tour of the UK. Outright winner of the ITV1 series ‘Show Me The Funny’ culminating in the release of his debut DVD ‘Patrick Monahan Live’, the ad-lib king also won the 2011 Forth Radio Best Stand-Up People’s Choice Award whilst putting in an appearance in ‘The Wrestling’ winner of an Edinburgh 2011 Fringe First Award.
Patrick’s achievements also include Best Newcomer at the 2012 Loaded LAFTA Awards and he got downright sexy for Let’s Dance for Sports Relief on BBC1 last March, dressing up as none other than Rihanna. He was also spotted on the goggle box on programmes such as ‘The Comedy Annual’ (ITV1), ‘Daybreak’ (ITV1), ‘Loose Women’ (ITV1), and ‘The Wright Stuff ‘ (C5).
As he prepares to set off on his latest tour whilst also managing to make time for the Ha Ha Hadrian’s Wall Charity Walk (organised by fellow comedian Nick Banks and featuring a cracking lineup), I had a chat with him over a cherry bakewell. All aboard the hugging train…
On your website you call yourself an Irish Iranian comedian. You were born in Iran but how long did you live there?
I was there only for a couple of years as my Dad was out there working and he’s Irish and he met my Mum out there. They were both young. She was 18 and working in a bank and they had my sister and brother and I was the baby of the family. I think they were always going to move from Iran later on but then there was a big war in 1980, so they had to leave. I would have been about 3 years old.
Where did you come to in the UK?
Yeah, we came to Teeside because the company my Dad worked for set up a big steel plant there and so we grew up on the North East coast of England and it was great fun. When I look at it now it seems like quite a deprived area but at the time I didn’t know any different so I enjoyed it.
Did you ever go back and visit your mother’s relatives in Iran?
We haven’t been back to Iran since. There are still some bits where if you left during the war and went back, you would be viewed with suspicion, so my mother isn’t keen for any of her children to return any time soon. It would be easier for my mother’s family to come to us.
So you grew up in the North East. Everyone is a bit of a character there yeah?
Definitely. That’s why I think I had such a perfect mix for comedy, because everyone in stand up talks about their parents in the background and I have an Irish father which is brilliant because it doesn’t matter which country you are in everyone knows about the Irish and their stereotypes and although Iranians are not so well known, the country is always in the news so people hear about it.
Then I was lucky because I grew up in Britain and I think the further north you are the easier it is to do comedy because you have that northern accent, which is good because when people hear a southern accent they assume the person will be better off or talk down to them so they don’t have as much warmth. The Midlands is alright but not as exotic but the more northern you go, the accent becomes funnier.
There is nothing funnier than a Geordie, Glaswegian or Highland accent, where it sounds a bit daft and people just think ‘Oh God Bless, they must live in a house with an outside toilet’.
Yeah, it can be quite an effective tool and not just the accent. Our sense of humour is a bit more broad because we’ve been beaten down. It’s a harder life in a lot of respects so you need that sense of humour.
Exactly and that’s the whole point of comedy. You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself and people can laugh with that whereas no-one is really going to laugh at a comedian who talks about how great his or her life is. But comedians who have had down and out luck like Peter Kay, Billy Connolly or Dave Allen, even though we don’t know about their real life we assume they’ve had quite a rough upringing.
Yeah, it is how they relate those personal stories that happen to everyone that people laugh at and that brings out a kind of healing, to be able to laugh at those tough times.
Yeah, that’s why it’s difficult for someone brought up in a wealthy background who has never had those hardships to stand in front of 200 or 5000 people from working class backgrounds and be able to relate to them. That’s again why Northern comics are slightly luckier but in saying that there are probably comics from places like Portsmouth or Exeter, right down the South coast who could do well in the North as long as they pitch the right observations or connections .
So you do relate to people from that perspective more than most comedians, so when you got into comedy was that how you approached it?
As a kid I didn’t even know what a comedian was but I always loved the idea of just talking and entertaining people. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a job but I wanted to be involved with people and talk to them. Then I heard there were these little pub gigs where you just get up on stage and do comedy but I didn’t realise what it was exactly. I just thought ‘Oh this is great, you just get up and talk’ and I remember doing it and I thought ‘Wow, this is for me. Perfect.’ You just stand there and talk and I thought ‘God, if you can get paid for this’.
So you improvise a lot with the audience. Did you prepare anything for that first gig?
God, no. I had some stuff to talk about like Chris Evans, Spice Girls, Jim Bowen and then I did another gig and another but I just kept talking about different stuff. It was only when I saw the same person doing the same thing at different gigs that I realised ‘Oh you can write a script’ and so I did try and do that. It actually took me years before I went back to freestyling and mixing it all up. It’s so weird you have to go through that cycle.
Yeah, I think you need to have stuff to pull out that people can see you‘ve worked at, that has a punchline and that allows you to go off waffling again. So you were gigging in the early years and then you won ITV’s Take The Mic competition. How did that come about?
Yeah, that was literally a brand new act competition which they put on television so I remember they would ask new comics at these Open Mic nights if they wanted to enter although I had only been going 6 months. I think the fact I had just started was an advantage because I just went in and went ‘Bang’ there’s my five minutes wheras now I think it’s harder with the more experience you get to do five minutes because it takes three minutes just to say hello. So it helped me being new and I just did my Irish and Iranian stuff.
We had to go and do these workshops and each one had a mentor and mine had Stephen K. Amos. The five comics would watch each other and you would see how they paused to deliver the joke and it would make you do the same, deliver it better.
I don’t think many people watched the show but it was good because it helped you to deal with your nerves because there were TV cameras there so it helped you get used to that pressure. Obviously as you get more experienced sometimes it’s not just the live audience, so you have to get used to playing to camera. If you make a DVD you’ve got to learn how to play the audience but also someone watching on a sofa as well.
I remember when I first started, when there was a video camera on, I would have a bad gig.
Yep, I would work with some established acts quite often and know their act and they would go into something like this and they are about to do a joke and you think ‘Oh yeah, this is going to kill’ and then it wouldn’t and you’d just think, ‘Bloody hell, the camera has thrown their timing off’ because they are so conscious of that camera. It’s like stand up when you are used to playing small rooms and then suddenly you are in front of 1000 people, you just got to get used to it and it’s the same with the camera.
So how did you go from Take the Mic to doing your own show at Edinburgh? Was it just a natural progression?
I carried on doing the gigs and I entered another competition run by Avalon and got through the heat and made the final in Edinburgh and went up there for a couple of days and I didn’t know what Edinburgh was. I only went up for a couple of days and saw all these shows and thought ‘Ah, so this is what happens’ and I realised I should aim to do a show so I went up with two other acts and we did 20 minutes each and I got an agent from that.
Then the following year I did a two hander show and then the next year a solo show. I was lucky because with the previous two shows it was cheaper for the flyers and you had people help to promote it and then I kept doing it just because I’d built that momentum. I wanted to keep that going.
I saw you do your show ‘Do the Right Thing?’ I think back in 2007. Was that your first one man show?
I think that was my third. My first one was called ‘Game On’ at the Guilded Balloon which was talking about childhood games and how you still like them as an adult and then the Underbelly with ‘The Road Map to Peace’ and so ‘Do the Right Thing’ was my third one man show.
So do you take stuff from your club set to Edinburgh or do you sit down and write a show?
Well, at that time I had to try it out in clubs. I wasn’t big enough an act to do previews and I was still trying to break into some of the bigger clubs. So, I could do more storytelling at the gigs I was doing wheras now, if I drop into a club and do 20 minutes, you could have a 5 minute story that works really well in the full show but anything longer than 2 minutes in a club and you are really trying to hold that audience because they’re concentration span is so much shorter than a theatre or festival crowd.
So with the ‘Road Map to Peace’ I tried to come up with my own way of getting peace in the Middle East but it just became about sending Lionel Ritchie out there to fight terrorism.
It’s a good a way as any I guess. So you do you mainly do your full show now?
My agent says just concentrate on the tour but when I’ve got time off I go and do some club shows. Before I would spend weekends doing clubs and I couldn’t care where it was but now, I’ll do a tour February, March, April and May, then the summer is festivals and previews and it’s Edinburgh in August and then start in September with a little tour and any time that’s left I do club gigs. Some people can get lazy but I don’t think you want to take too much time off because it’s harder to go back to it and it’s not like you being in Turkey, there are comedy clubs all around here so I have no excuse.
I thought you would need to do the clubs to get an audience for your tours.
Yeah, the only thing is some of the theatres have a clause where you are not allowed to play that area for 3 months before the gig which makes sense because if you are billed to play say Preston Town Hall for £12 a ticket and the local comedy club has you on for £10 a ticket doing 20 minutes with two other comedians and the comedy club say, come and see him play our gig cheaper but the audience is not getting the full proper show. But yeah, for us as a comic, you’ve got to do the clubs, you’d be crazy not to.
So a couple of years ago you won ‘Show Me The Funny’ which I think was the biggest comedy competiton on TV ever.
Yeah, that’s the way they billed it, like it’s a new comedy X Factor. It was in some ways in that there would be a big public vote at the end of it. But the difference to the X Factor was you can’t do covers. The show was such great fun cause every week we would go to different places and we didn’t know where we were going. You’d just get on a train and you didn’t know which stop you were getting off at and literally turn up and they’d give you two days to do a challenge and then write material.
I think all stand ups should get the chance to do that once in their life because once you’ve done stuff like that everything else becomes a bit easier. It’s like I don’t panic if I am just doing new stuff now because I had to do that in the show. The final itself was live so that was a great experience.
For the final were you expecting your name to get called out? How did you think you’d done?
Oh God no! I didn’t expect to win at all. I didn’t even expect to get to the final. I thought, ok, this may be a bit of a laugh, give it a go. A lot of people there were joke writers so I thought the show was more for joke writers and it was like Take the Mic where it may suit new acts better as they are used to just doing 5 minutes and the older acts are more used to doing longer routines. When you are doing a 5 minute set you can’t really do a 3 minute routine or do call backs.
The judges are also critising because comedy is so subjective. One person could love it and the next person could hate it, it just depends if the judges like you or not. When I got into the final I thought ‘Bloody hell’ and then it depends if the public like you. If you look at things like the X Factor and how the public votes I didn’t think I’d win because there were two lads and a girl and I thought the girl would win because it is mainly women who vote on shows like that.
Maybe they all fancied you Patrick.
No, not really for comics. If it were singing then maybe. But Dan was from Wales with 4 million people, Tiff was from London with 10 million people and me from Teeside which has about 100,000 so I just thought ‘if it came to a vote and people vote regionally then you are buggered’ but it just came down to how it went on the night. So, I guess it was just a bit of luck really.
Did it do anything for your career?
It did help yeah. This is the thing with stand up or any industry, it is like that ladder isn’t it, you know where you go up every step but there is always another ceiling where you try to get to the next one. This helped me get off the circuit and into more theatres and it got me some television appearances as well. It does only help one step, it wasn’t like ‘Oh my God, this changes everything now’.
It wasn’t like Billy Connolly going on Parkinson.
No it wasn’t like that. The show hadn’t been broadcast before, that’s the thing. To get on something like Parkinson you would need to break through something like 10 steps and Show Me the Funny helped me to break through about 2 steps which is good. It is still two hurdles that I got over that may have taken years to do by just grafting.
I see you have a DVD out.
Yeah, I had done different Edinburgh shows and that was a chance to choose the best bits from different shows and some new stuff and it was great to catalogue some of your stuff. You know how writers will have books but with stand up it was just a chance for us to get it filmed and then you can get a collection, as opposed to just having notes scribbled on paper. You have actually got your routines down on film, so it’s just nice to have really.
Yep, did you have much success with the DVD? Did it sell much?
Yeah, up North it sold loads. It’s always the case where you will sell more in your home town. I did a DVD signing in HMV in Middlesborough and it sold there and down South it’s done alright, it was never going to be huge there. On Amazon it’s done well and in some supermarkets. It’s funny because people still buy it now and they say ‘Oh, I just got your DVD for my birthday’ and people Tweet you about it, so again that’s nice. It’s good for people who can’t see you live, they can just pick up your DVD.
So, I was wondering what plans you had for the future. Are you doing this Hadrians Wall walk?
Yeah, are you doing it?
I’m not doing it. I am in Turkey. If I could get there I would but I don’t think I can. What is the story with that?
Yeah, it’s a fundraiser for a childrens hospital in the North East. Nick Banks organised it because his friend had to go to hospital for treatment and he asked various comics and he asked me to do the walk and host the gig each night, so I said ‘Yeah, of course, it sounds brilliant’. We will walk 10-15 miles each day. It has been planned where we will end up each night to do the gig in the pub and I’ll host it and whoever is on the walk will do a set, so yeah it should be good fun.
Yeah, it sounds like a good laugh.
It’ll be nice to have a mini break, even though we’ll be gigging each night, it’ll still be good to get out and clear the head.
So what are your immediate plans?
Well, I have a tour which kicks off now for the next few months which is will be in the UK apart from a week in Norway. I will do the festivals, Leicester, Nottingham, Glasgow and then obviously Edinburgh in August.
Will it be the same show from your personal tour that you will take to Edinburgh?
No, it will be a new one because what I will do is use stuff from last August and put some new stuff in so by the end of the tour, it will be less of the old stuff and more of the new stuff, so when I preview it in July, I will be able to pull a show together for August.
That’s great. Well thank you for talking and good luck with everything.
Thanks Billy, great talking to you.